Hello SixPrizes UG!
hoopedia.nba.comU.S. Nationals are over and the UG staff has done great job by analyzing the tournament via their own tournament experiences. Thanks to you, I was again able to get 2 writing spots for July and the both articles will once again be in the second half of the month. I’ve slowed down the pace of my articles in my blog during summer since the Worlds are coming and I haven’t thoroughly enough investigated the BLW-on environment.
So… *spoiler alert!* I won’t be writing about ANY BLW-on decks in this article. In fact, this article will include zero deck lists or card analysis. If we look solely at the word count, this is my shortest article in UG yet. However, as you’ll soon find out, this will be my heaviest UG article to date.
In this article I’ll focus on the importance of play testing and how the people around you affect your play style and tournament success. This article is all about people, self-knowledge and developing yourself as a player with the help of the people around you. The thoughts inside this article apply to every part of your life, not only Pokémon, so it might be a heavy read for some of you.
The team spirit has always been very high among Finnish player before Worlds since we’re going to Worlds always as “Team Finland,” not as singular players. The Miska-camp that was held a few weeks ago gave me the idea for this article. Even though I’ve won Finnish Nationals 6 times, I still haven’t been able to claim the title of a World Champion. However, there are two other Finnish World Champions. What could explain this phenomenon?
I’ll also talk about the importance of team work and how the people around you affect your tournament results (both negatively and positively). In fact, this article was also inspired by an ancient 6P article by Adam named “How to Get on a Team.”
It’s always challenging for me to write non-deck analysis articles since English isn’t my native language, but I hope you enjoy this article nonetheless. The discussion in this article is very important in my opinion, if you want aim to be one of the best players in the world one day. In my second article this month, I’ll once again do a list-heavy article with things from both HS-on and BLW-on!
Pokemon ParadijsThe headline should be obvious to all of us, but in fact it isn’t. What do I mean by saying it isn’t obvious to everyone? Let me tell you that by giving a recent example from the Worlds testing of our Finnish team.
I came to the camp site late Friday night and a lot of people had already started testing and had tested for hours and played dozens of games. When I started to get my decks out of my backpack, one of our Senior players came to me and wanted me to take a look at his Worlds deck. Well, of course I accepted and he gave me the breakdown of his deck. It was a 6 Corners deck. The first thing that came to me was that ”this is a worse Klinklang.” I just wanted to offer him a different deck to play.
However, I can’t go bashing someone’s deck just like that so I asked if he wanted to play with me. You can’t always say how well the deck works be solely looking at the list, so my first impression of deck might have been wrong. No matter how bad the list looks like, you should always test it before saying a word about it. Also, if the deck was as bad as I thought, I would win most of the games and that would be enough for him to change his deck.
Anyways, I decided to play against him with two different decks – Eelektrik/Zekrom (Erik Nance’s list) and Speed Darkrai (Tom Dolezal’s list). We played 8 games and (I played 4 games with Zekrom and 4 with Speed Darkrai). In the end, he was able to win one of those 8 games. He donked my Tynamo T1. After those 8 games he said to me:
“It’s weird, I had won almost every single test game with this deck before I played against you.”
So that was the reason why he thought it was a good choice for Worlds. However, before I was able to say anything he probably understood the point I was trying to make and asked:
“I take it that you want me to change my deck?”
I only nodded. There was nothing else for me to say since he understood that his deck wasn’t competitive enough.
But the question is, what drove him to think that the deck was competitive? It was his test partners and the decks his tested against. In a versatile metagame the worst thing that you can do is just to take a random deck from the format and test against it. If you’re able to win it that doesn’t mean your deck is great.
There are over 20 different deck variations you can face in a tournament – testing only against one or a few decks out of those 20 will give you a very twisted opinion of your own deck.
Here is a second real life example of what happens when you test too much against a few matchups that you EXPECT to be popular in the upcoming metagame.
It was year 2006 and I was testing for Worlds like a maniac. After all, it was my first year in Masters division. I was playing with a Mewtric deck. I tested with 3 different people. One of them was playing RaiEggs (that year’s the U.S. Nationals winning deck), the second was playing Flariados (just a random deck) and the third was playing LBS (the most popular deck of that moment). The metagame back then was even more versatile than today and yet I was still testing only against these three decks. The funniest thing is that I tested like 6 hours a day for 2 months. Yes, two months.
Pokemon ParadijsHowever, the BIG mistake that I made was that I only tested against these 3 players. And the worst misplay I did with my testing was that I played over 250 games against Flariados, which we knew to be only a marginal deck. I thought it didn’t matter which matchups I played as long as I played with my own deck. To be honest – I had no idea how to test back then! I wasted 2 months of my life playing against matchups that I wouldn’t even face in the Worlds.
The conclusion? Well, you might remember how my Worlds 2006 went – I went 3-5. Ok, to be honest I had horrible luck during the tournament, but that doesn’t change the fact that my result was the worst in my entire Worlds history and with wiser playtesting I would’ve done better with Mewtric or may have even changed the deck completely! There was no one to tell me what I should’ve done; it was all through trial and error.
This seems to happen even to experienced players. Two weeks ago I watched The Top Cut’s episode which featured the U.S. National Champion John Roberts II. There Pooka said that one of the factors behind their sub-par tournament runs were the twisted point of view to the metagame. They expected that Sableye DEX/Darkrai EX/Weavile UD/Hammers/Super Scoop Up decks would be popular. Wait what? I think that almost everyone can agree that it was a very weird point of view to the metagame.
However, that is what happens when you don’t look around of your own testing rink. You get so obsessed with your newfound decks that you forget that there are still 1600 other people, who probably have never even thought of your “popular” deck. The bigger the tournament, the wider the perspective you must have in order to succeed.
Pokemon ParadijsIf you read my last article, you know that my predictions about the U.S. Nationals metagame weren’t that much off. However, how could they be since I covered 18 different decks! Predicting the correct metagame isn’t rocket science. People say that predicting the metagame for big tournaments like the U.S. Nationals and Worlds is nearly impossible. I disagree. We are living in the internet-era. The internet is almost limitless source of information.
All you have to do is to spend time to look for that information. There are small indications about the upcoming metagame in every single discussion about the decks. However, the most important source for predicting the metagame are the results of past tournaments.
Unlike stock markets, you can predict the future of the Pokémon TCG metagame from the past results. However, there is one thing you must remember – the most winning deck is very rarely the most POPULAR deck. From Battle Roads results (and reports) you could easily see that Darkrai wasn’t necessarily the most popular deck. And the fact is that, the more a deck wins tournaments, the more it will be teched against in the upcoming tournaments.
The “BDIF” will always have a tough time in the upcoming tournaments because there are secret decks that may be designed to beat only and only the BDIF. A great example of this was my Worlds 2008 run. I had a deck that beat the BDIF – GG – over 95% of the time and it took me all the way to Top 8.
Pokemon LightningYou can easily do well in smaller tournaments without testing with other people (just look at my City Championship results from this season), but the bigger the tournament and the metagame, the more you’ll need other players around you. However, you don’t necessarily need a “team.” Your team can just be your friends, any guy from online or your local league players.
But it’s good to remember that if you don’t have a team, just be aware of the skill level of the people you test with. If you test with “bad” players, you’ll get a false confidence on your deck and it’s too late to realize that your deck was bad when you are in the tournament.
Even though I encourage you to test with as many players and decks as possible; it’s still quality over quantity. One quality game against a deck will teach a lot more than 10 bad and fast games against the very same deck. If you don’t have a team around you, all you need is to trust that your local league players or the players on the internet are skilled enough.
However, a team is always better than random playtesting partners. On the other hand a random team of “bad” players won’t do you any good. You need a good team around you. The qualities of a good team are:
Mark A. HicksIn the beginning, all that matters is that you have a chance to test every single deck. After all of the decks have been tested a few times, it’s time to play quality games and recognize the weaknesses and strengths of each deck. It isn’t a fast process to single out decks that stand out from such a versatile field like the current metagame.
The more you test, the better, but try to remember that this is only a game. And it should be fun. Before the Worlds 2006 I completely forget what I was doing. I had only one aim – to play as many games and become a better player that way. It was all about the quantity. I didn’t have fun and the more I played, the more frustrated I became.
I think some of you may have that kind of experience from playing video games. You’re just too hooked to play the game, but as you have played 8 hours it straight, you’ll just become angry and frustrated. At that point, it’s time to pause the game and take a breather. I took no breathers during my two month testing span and it costed me a lot.
To test you must be interested in this game. A very important quality of a team member is that he is interested and excited about this game. The more passion you have for this game, the better your play testing games will be and the more you want tplay games. If you put your heart and soul to each match, the games will be a lot more interesting than mechanical Mewtwo EX wars between CMT and Eels.
In the Finland the passion towards Pokémon TCG has been decreasing, and I’ve noticed it very clearly since this year’s Nationals Nationals victory was the easiest for me to date. It really seemed that no one was even interested in winning Nationals because the play testing amount of Finnish players was very low. I hope this will change for the upcoming season and I’m glad that I’ve seen an indicator of that in the Worlds preparation camps.
As we all know, it’s way easier to agree than to disagree, but without constructive disagreeing, no development happens. It’s very important that you’re always open to new aspects to your deck or your playing style. It’s too easy to think that you’re the only one, who knows how YOUR deck works and that any other way than your way is the wrong way.
I’ve seen this kind of attitude all over the internet forums of Pokémon TCG and in real life as well and I think this is one of the biggest problems in the Pokémon TCG community. People take criticism too often as personal insults. If someone says that your deck is just bad, you should listen WHY they think it’s bad.
As I’ll discuss more later on, no one can win come up with everything by themselves, no matter how experienced or good they are. We are still humans and sometimes we need a fresh perspective to make progress. It’s very important that the atmosphere among the players testing with each other encourages different opinions and new ideas. All that matters is that there are new insights to everything.
If you have watched the TV show House M.D. you know that whenever House comes up with the right diagnosis, it’s usually sparked by something someone else says. This same thing applies to Pokémon TCG. Even though your idea isn’t good, someone can get a spark of a good idea from your “bad” idea.
Last thing I want to say about this and doesn’t apply directly to teams but criticism in general is that whenever your deck gets criticized; try to understand why it gets criticized and what’s even more important – DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY. It’s only your Pokémon card deck, not your baby or parent. Take it cool, don’t be offended and analyze all the feedback you get.
Pokemon ParadijsCard knowledge is also one of the most important things of a playtesting group and it’s linked tightly with other qualities. The better everyone’s card knowledge, the better and more innovative cards they can come up with. As you know, it’s always embarrassing to see a card when you’re in 6-0 and be like “ok, I’ve never seen this card.”
This surprise factor is also very important when it comes to big tournaments because only one “new” card in your deck can disrupt your opponent’s concentration.
Card knowledge is a very important quality of a single player as well and I really think that it’s something everyone should develop. You should always be prepared for everything and if you know every card in the format, you aren’t that easily surprised. I often just scroll around the set scans (from i.e. PokéBeach of PokéGym) just to refresh my memory. Sometimes I even come up with decent rogue deck ideas while scrolling around the scans.
If you don’t feel like it’s a good time to spend your time, I suggest that you’ll do it at least before the big tournaments. There are always cards that you haven’t thought of and someone else has and a last minute preparation may save you from the biggest surprises.
If you’re playing with the same people, it’s good to recognize each person’s weaknesses and strengths as a Pokémon TCG player. It’s easy to give an example of this from team Finland since I’ve been preparing to Worlds every year with them even though I have played in only 6 Worlds.
I’ll take two people as examples of strengths and weaknesses of Pokémon TCG players’ – myself and Miska (2006 World Champion and a 4-time Worlds top-cutter).
Since 2005 we have had more than 1 Finnish player going to Worlds (in 2004 I was the only Finnish player in the Worlds). And since 2005 I’ve practically built all the decks played in the Worlds by Finnish players (not exaggerating). I’ve always been very interested in metagame all over the world and have always done a comprehensive analysis and predictions about the metagame of Worlds.
This has taken a lot of my time, but it shows in the results of Finnish players as well. Also, it has increased my knowledge of Pokémon TCG at the same time and without all the massive investigation I’ve done in the past 9 years by myself, I – for example – wouldn’t be writing this article right now.
The investigation of the metagame has been a very important part of my development as a Pokémon TCG player. The wide knowledge of mine is by far the greatest strength of mine as a Pokémon TCG player. In upcoming seasons this massive knowledge will come in handy, because there a lot of reprint like cards and it’s easier to recognize the good cards from bad cards.
Even though I’m interested of the past, I’m always very interested in the future as well and whenever a new set is released in Japan, I’ll instantly look at the scans and start doing deck lists. I usually produce 15-20 deck lists from each set as soon as the Japanese scans are released. This is a tradition for me and even though it always takes a lot of time, it’s fun at the same time. Obviously, I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise!
I’ve never had someone to say how I should build my deck; you can say I’m self-taught person in Pokémon TCG. Everything has happened through trial and error. Learning through trial and error is much slower than someone guiding you to how-to-play, but thankfully learning through trial and error also has its pros. When there was no one to say what I should do, I needed to understand why things were like they were and why certain cards are better than the others.
This has helped me to get a deeper understanding of things in Pokémon TCG, but has it done any good to me as a player? Not really, but when one has a deeper understanding of something, it’s easier teach other people. So, in fact, the people benefitting from my deeper understanding of the game are the people around me, not I.
But obviously I have weaknesses as a Pokémon TCG player as well. My biggest weaknesses are the big slow-paced tournaments in general. I’m usually very sucked into anything I’m doing and in big tournaments like Worlds, I’ve have trouble getting concentrated in the beginning of each match. I’m at my best while playing 30 games in a row one after another. If Worlds would be an endurance tournament, where there are almost no breaks during matches, I would’ve probably done a lot better.
This also explains why I’ve done so well in the Finnish tournaments, but not as well in the Worlds. Obviously the strengths of mine (like the experience to predict the metagame) have been a part reason, but the fast-paced Finnish tournaments also explains it. Most people like to take breathers between top matches, but I would love to just play a game after game after game without breathers.
I hate waiting and most of all – I hate lunch breaks. This has become a usual joke inside the Finnish TCG community since everyone knows I hate lunch breaks. So just make Worlds without a lunch break and I promise to Top 4, haha!
Overconfidence is a problem for me sometimes as well. Even though I try calm myself down when I’m ahead like 4-5 prizes, I seem can’t to stop thinking about taking the last prize. This sometimes leads to too aggressive moves even though I would have a slower – guaranteed – way to win a game.
This happened to me in the Top 16 of this year’s ECC for example. I tried to take down the Zekrom EX and trusted that I would draw an engine from Juniper, but whiffed the Energy and ended up losing the game. I could’ve just Catchered two prizes, but instead I took the aggressive route and lost the game.
When me and my big brother started the second Finnish Pokémon league in 2004, Miska was one of the people that was in league in its grand opening. From that day on, he has always been the most active league member of Hyvinkää league. He is a living example of what pure enthusiasm and will-to-win can achieve.
Miska is a tournament player – there is no doubt about it. He won Worlds in 2006. He was in Top 8 in 2007. He won Finnish Nationals in 2009 and was in Top 4 of Worlds in 2009. And now again, he was in Top 16 in Worlds 2011. He has undoubtedly one of the best road records in the World Championships. However, whenever I playtest against Miska (which is often), I feel very frustrated.
When he doesn’t play in a tournament, his skill level drops greatly. I’m always surprised by his tournament records because in the test games, he never manages to beat me. No matter the matchup, no matter the opening hands. He is a player that only uses his full potential when necessary.
As I’ve said multiple times, being excited about this game is an important thing when it comes to succeeding in this game. You need a motivation to play in order to do well. Miska has always been interested in this game and sometimes I think he is maybe even too excited. Miska is always interested in the new sets and knows almost every single card in every format. That makes him even more a fearsome opponent in a big tournament.
Miska has done remarkably well in tournaments, so he probably doesn’t any weaknesses as player, right? Well, in fact he has. But the main weakness of his is outside the tournament gaming – he is surprisingly bad deck builder. I can easily say that he is a worse deck builder than most of you no matter how long you have played. Whenever he wants to build a new deck, he always asks for a skeleton from me.
This has continued for 8 years now and I see no end to it. He knows how the deck works once he lays his hands on it, but he doesn’t know how to build it to be consistent or to run well. I’ve always wondered when someone can be so good playing Pokémon TCG, but has no clue about deck building.
Miska also has one weakness as a player that he himself has also admitted. It’s the very same as mine – overconfidence. However, Miska takes it to another level. In Worlds 2007 he stopped ATTACHING energy to his Pokémon when he “knew” he had won. In the end, the game was very tough because of his too laid-back attitude.
In 2009 Worlds during a Top 16 match Miska didn’t play a Supporter for 3 turns, because he had an upper hand in the game. In the end he ended up losing that game… I can easily say that overconfidence is the number one enemy of skilled players, because sometimes you can’t control it and it takes control over you.
Even though the achievements of Miska are his own, he wouldn’t be anywhere without Team Finland. I think Miska’s success demonstrates perfectly how a good team fulfills single players’ weaknesses and makes him the champion.
Quality of what? Well, quality of everything. Quality of your test games. Quality of your teammates. Quality of the decks you’re testing and testing against. The best team isn’t the team that has the most members, but the team that has a clear goal in their eyes and work for the goal. To be honest, I haven’t tested for Worlds as much as I would have liked to, but I believe in the quality of testing.
As I mentioned, there was a year, when I tested a LOT (too much) and it didn’t do any good. You should keep that example in mind whenever testing for a big tournament. It’s not about the quantity, it’s about the quality. I love how that applies to almost anything in world.
When a team (or a play testing) group has all these qualities, the results we’ll be surely good. I think Finnish Pokémon TCG players are a good example of it. Finland has a pretty small player base, but the small player base is excited enough about the game to succeed in the game. I believe anyone can succeed in Pokémon TCG if they all the pieces fall in the right places.
mliveEven though Pokémon isn’t classified as a team game, I have discussed in this article that in fact it’s very close to it. However, just like in team sports like ice hockey or soccer, players’ achievements are those that are remembered, not what the team behind them did. There is always only one “hero” even though the whole team has worked hard for the achievement. I remember that Sidney Crosby made the winning goal against the U.S.A. in the finals of Olympic Games, but I don’t remember who made the earlier goal for each team!
The longing for heroes is probably in the human nature. Obviously it’s emphasized in games like Pokémon, which is a solo game. Everyone playing Pokémon playing Pokémon know the names Tsuguyoshi Yamato and Jason Klaczynski due their achievements, even though not everyone even knows what they’ve achieved in this game!
It’s good to remember that even these greatest players in the history of Pokémon TCG have a team around them. I think Jason has always been part of team Lafonte (or whatever it has changed its name during years), while Yamato is a member of Team Torchic. From what I’ve seen discussed with my Japanese source (Yuki Fujimori) for Eye on Japan entries (which is part of team SipCup by the way), he said that the team mentality is very common in Japan.
Practically every Master player belong to team, with whom they test and prepare their decks. Without these teams, no single players would be able to stand out from the mass. It’s a good team that has enabled these good players to be the best. It’s often forgotten, but it’s a fact.
Within Team Finland we have a very strong feel of unity and I’ve been very happy about it. Even though I have never finished in Top 4, I still own Top 4 Worlds cards because both Miska and Heikki gave me one of their Top 4 cards when they reached the Top 4 in the Worlds. I was very flattered by this gesture and felt like they recognized my work behind their achievements. It’s always great to know that your background work isn’t taken for granted.
Even though I’ve emphasized the importance of the people around the player winning, the winner is the player that made it all happen after all. The winner was the player who piloted the deck through a lot of rounds and who (probably) made almost no mistakes during his way to victory. Make no mistake, not everyone can win the tournament, no matter how good team they have behind them.
In the end it all comes down to what you do while playing in the tournament. There is no one to tell you how to play or what to do; it’s all about you while playing.
Winning is a solo effort. It isn’t to say, but I think I believe that not everyone has what it takes to be a winner of a big tournament like the U.S. Nationals or World Championships. There are some players that are just better under pressure than others and who overachieve under pressure. I’m not one of them.
However, all I can do is to try my best and believe that one day all the pieces will fall together. It’s also good to remember that winning isn’t everything; the most important thing is that you try to exceed yourself every single time you play. That’s what is really rewarding.
This information won’t benefit you in any way, if you can’t apply it to your real life. So what should you do in able to get all the benefit of a “team”…
Boston HeraldFirst thing you need to do in order to get better results from your team is to identify each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Just like in every team game, you need a role for each member. Of course these roles don’t have to be as binding as for example a quarterback in football.
In order to identify each other’s strengths and weaknesses you need to be open with each other. It isn’t easy to say to your friend that in your opinion he is bad at something. I know just how difficult it is since I’ve had to do it multiple times.
Try to do the identification process in a positive way. Remember, you can’t be good at everything, but you are always good at something. Telling each other what you really think about each other’s game skills will help you a lot while making roles for everyone. Just be open and everything will go just fine.
Local league players are a team even though they don’t necessarily realize that. The level of your league’s players is a defining part of your development as player. The worse the overall level is in your league, the slower you’ll develop as player. It’s always fun to win, but think again if you win 80% of your league matches and then play only mediocre results in tournaments. If there is a difference between your testing results and tournament results you should analyze what explains this difference.
In Pokémon, life and etc. in order to develop you need to go out of your “comfortable zone.” I’ve seen players stay inside their comfort zone for too long in this game and it doesn’t usually end up well. You might be the king of your local league, but it doesn’t make you a good player.
All you need to do is to ask yourself a one simple question: what you want to achieve in this game? If you want to be a World Champion one day, there is no shortcut to it. You need to work hard for it and challenge yourself even though it might sometimes feel unpleasant.
Pokemon ParadijsI’ve never been too into play testing over internet and the last time I did it was in 2008. It’s a great way to test against a lot of people, but for me it doesn’t feel the same. I know a lot of players who play test mostly on the internet because they don’t have a possibility to test in real life. For these people the internet is the best (and only) way to test.
It’s difficult to get a team together if you are playtesting mainly on the internet, but there are things you can do in order to develop yourself through the games you play on the internet. First of all, you must be aware of the skill level of your opponents. Remember, here applies the very same logic as before – if you win 80% of your games on the internet, but win over 50% of games in a tournament, there is something wrong with the way you test.
You can’t always choose your opponents on the internet, but just make sure you make most out of every game you play. It’s difficult to get a “real game” feeling on the internet, but try to play the internet games just like you should play the tournament games. Keep checking your opponent’s discard pile and try to predict what could be his/her next move.
If you play on the internet, you probably visit a lot of online Pokémon TCG sites as well. Try to discuss in the forums of these kinds of websites. Remember, you aren’t always correct and conversation should always be constructive. If you playtest mostly on the internet, it’s sure that you have missed things that people that test in real life has experienced (like a tech or a secret deck), so try to learn through discussing on forums. The one most important thing in order to become a better player is to give up prejudice and to be open for everything.
Internet is your best friend. Even if you don’t play on the internet, you can keep yourself up-to-date through various Pokémon TCG sites. I’ve been there the last year since I was 300 miles away from the closest Pokémon league. I think a player that wants to know what is happening in the Pokémon TCG metagame, should visit AT LEAST these sites regularly:
- SixPrizes (the most comprehensive amount of articles)
- PokéGym (I love the Compendium and ruling parts of this site. It’s also the best place for general discussion about the state of Pokémon TCG)
- TheTopCut (there is nothing better than looking at their game videos)
- HeyTrainer (even though it’s not suitable for the youngest players’ it’s one of the best sites to get constructive (and sometimes not-so-constructive) criticism)
- TheDeckOut (because it’s my blog, haha)
In my opinion, you’re fully covered with the sites mentioned above.
This is my first article which includes no deck lists and is fully concentrated on people. The topic itself is a very heavy topic and I hope I didn’t make anyone feel bad. It’s always easier to find the reasons for unsuccessful tournament from everything but yourself. However, sometimes you just have to look at the man in the mirror and be honest with yourself if you want to develop. This applies to everything you do from Pokémon to any things in life.
What I would like you to do is to say your opinion about this article. Remember to “Like” the article if you liked it and “Dislike” the article if you didn’t feel it was that useful. If I get a cold reception of this article, I know to concentrate on decks and metagame analysis in the future (after all that’s what I do the best in my opinion!).
Also, I would love if you commented the article since I would like to hear your opinions about this article and if it stirred up any feelings/thoughts in your head.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be doing two articles this month once again since you really seemed to enjoyed my Pre-Nationals article. The second article will once again focus on decks (both HS-on and BLW-on), so if you didn’t like this article, I hope you’ll enjoy the second article!
Thanks for reading!
– Esa Juntunen
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